Tuesday 10 May 2011

How to speak publisher - B is for Bung

Ever been tempted to buy a book because the bookshop labels it a 'staff choice' or 'one of our favourites'? Because it's in a three-for-two deal or some other promotion? As many people now know, these are not always 'real' staff favourites. The paid-for plugging of a book in a bookstore is a bung. A bogof, incidentally, is a type of bung - it's a 'buy one get one free' offer.

The iniquitous bung system was exposed in 2001 in an article in the Spectator. At that time, W.H.Smith was charging £10,000 to label a book a 'recommended read' and Amazon wanted £6,000 to call a title 'Book of the Month'. The quality of the book was pretty much immaterial - the booksellers who endorsed the books had often not even read them.

Although Waterstone's says that today's staff recommendations are genuine endorsements, it is still well known that the books on special offer in many bookshops, or on the tables at the front of the shop and so on, are there because the publisher has paid for them to be there. 

Does it matter?  OK, we can grumble about unfairness to authors - 'my book is not selling because it wasn't vigorously promoted'. More worrying is the suggestion to book-buyers that any particular book is really good, that it has been chosen by the bookseller for special promotion on the basis of its content. That, surely, is abusing the book-buyer's trust? But this post is not about the ethics of bookselling, it's about how to speak publisher. Now you know what a bung is - decide for yourself whether or not it is honest.


  1. A bung is not honest. A bogof is not honest either. I ignore labels and look at contents and I do not think I have ever bought anything labelled "staff pick"!

  2. This is exactly the problem I have with newspaper "best" lists and prizes that have entry fees that most small publishers can't afford. Readers are led to believe a book is the very best out there when all it is is the best of the very few a group of interested parties were given to choose from. I have no real problem if such prizes, lists, and offers get people excited about books and reading. My problem comes when people are told something is the best there is, read it and think "if that's the best then books aren't for me". They have no way of knowing about the myriad other things out there they may love.